After an emotional exchange between Takoma Park residents, City Council members and Mayor Sammie A. Abbott, the council last week amended landlord-tenant ordinances to eliminate controversial exceptions to the city's rent control legislation.
The council voted 5 to 2 to restore wording that had been changed by the previous council at the behest of landlords.
As a result of the vote, the City Council will resume hearing appeals from the Landlord-Tenant Commission, which arbitrates rental disputes; nonresident landlords no longer will be eligible to serve on the commission; and rent prices for vacant apartments will fall under the same increase restrictions applied to occupied units.
Tenant activists, who opposed the changes voted by the previous council, argued that low-income renters cannot afford to appeal in court the decisions of the Landlord-Tenant Commission and that landlords would be able to drive out tenants to make apartments vacant. When apartments became vacant, they said, they would become exempt from rent ceilings that limit increases on occupied apartments to 10 percent a year.
Council members Frank Garcia and Joseph Faulkner, who are backed by a political coalition supported by landlord groups, voted against the stricter rent controls.
Garcia called the council's actions "capricious." "It has always been my feeling that the original intent of the legislation was rent stabilization, not rent control," he said.
Citing statistics that showed the number of retaliatory evictions had gone from 13 last year to two cases since the previous council's landlord-tenant ordinance went into effect, Garcia said the law was working without having to put a price ceiling on vacant apartments.